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Maureen McMullen, Published December 05 2013

F-M shoppers contribute to happier Christmas for local seniors

FARGO – The holidays can be a lonely time of year for senior citizens.

With an estimated 27 percent of people older than 65 widowed and 28 percent living alone, many seniors find themselves giftless on Christmas.

“They don’t have families close, or some of them don’t have families anymore,” said Joan Justesen, community service representative at Home Instead Senior Care. “They can be quite alone in the world.”

Thanks to Home Instead urging shoppers in the Fargo-Moorhead area to “Be a Santa to a Senior,” 150 senior citizens who wouldn’t otherwise receive gifts have something to look forward to this holiday season.

Home Instead collaborated with Sunmart and local nonprofit agencies to collect, wrap and deliver gifts to needy senior citizens.

Starting on Nov. 13, Sunmart stores set out Christmas trees decked with ornaments featuring the first name of a recipient and their gift request.

Shoppers can pick a tag, shop for the gifts and deliver them to Sunmart unwrapped with the tag attached by Wednesday.

Home Instead will cover gifts for any remaining tags, although Justesen doubts the issue will arise.

“One tree was empty within five days, and I had to scramble to get more of the gift requests,” she said. “The response has been fantastic.”

Home Instead, an international company providing seniors with in-home care, has held its Be a Santa to a Senior program every year since 2006.

Seniors can register to be recipients, but oftentimes staff members at senior centers such as Valley Senior Services of Cass County will refer clients in need.

“[The program has] just been so neat because most of our clients that we work with in this program are low-income; they don’t really have families and probably wouldn’t be getting Christmas gifts,” said Bernie Johnson, outreach director at Valley Senior Services.

Though recipients usually ask for practical gifts like socks, soap or towels, Johnson said she was amazed at donors’ generosity.

“We’ve had a senior ask for a small four-cup coffee maker, and we get the gift back, and it’s this huge, elaborate coffee maker,” Johnson said. “People really do go above and beyond what is on their tag.”

Once Home Instead collects the gifts on Wednesday, the community is invited to help with their gift-wrapping parties at area senior centers at noon Thursday.

Participating Sunmart locations include the Moorhead location at 2605 S. 8th St., Fargo at 3175 25th S. St., and West Fargo at 1100 13th Ave. S.

To find the closest “Santa to a Senior” tree, visit BeaSantatoaSenior.com or call (701) 478-1010.